When Max Verstappen ran wide at the start of the 2021 Formula One French Grand Prix, it looked like his race was over. He’d sustained some damage and lost time to reigning champion Lewis Hamilton. But a poor strategy by Mercedes—and an exceptional one by Red Bull—put Verstappen back in contention with just a handful of laps to go, leaving the Dutch driver to glide into the lead with just one lap remaining.
Yuki Tsunoda started the race from the pit lane after his qualifying crash forced his AlphaTauri team to change parts.
Polesitter Max Verstappen initially secured a great start, but he ran off the track and had to take a chicane to reenter the track. He damaged his front wing in the process, leaving Lewis Hamilton to not just take the lead but run away with it. Verstappen avoided a penalty for the off-track maneuver, and he even began to clock some fast laps, cutting down the gap between himself and Hamilton.
Not much happened until pit stops began to kick off around lap 15, with several drivers citing the fact that tires were degrading more rapidly than expected.
Red Bull Racing, though, managed to pull a successful undercut on Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes thought it had enough time to pit the British driver and get him out in front of Verstappen, but it wasn’t to be; Verstappen passed him quickly, regaining the lead. Hamilton managed to stay close to Verstappen’s rear end, ultimately cutting the gap down to under a second by lap 27.
On lap 32, Verstappen came in for his second stop. Other drivers like Hamilton had been complaining of excessive wear as well. Ultimately, it looked like Mercedes would avoid a second stop, even though Verstappen was gaining about a second per lap and would be within striking distance with six laps remaining at that pace. That said, he still had both Mercedes drivers in front of him, and he was quickly wearing through his tires to catch up; he also had dirty air to contend with.
Verstappen caught up with second-place Bottas with 10 laps remaining. Bottas ran wide as Verstappen attacked, which essentially handed the second place position to his Red Bull rival. It gave the Dutch driver a straight shot to the leader of the race five seconds in front of him.
Bottas was upset at the move, especially since it left Sergio Perez within striking distance. He asked over the radio, “Why don’t you listen to me when I tell you it’ll be a two-stop race?” It left Perez a chance to pass Bottas with just four laps remaining, leaving two Red Bulls in podium positions.
Verstappen was within DRS zone on the penultimate lap, and he managed to pass Hamilton with just over a lap remaining in the race. It extended his championship lead over Hamilton to even greater heights, including that extra point for fastest lap. This is the first time Red Bull has won three races in a row during the turbo hybrid era.
- Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
- Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
- Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
- Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
- Lando Norris (McLaren)
- Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
- Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
- Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
- Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
- Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)